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Pool chlorination up for debate

Young swimmers who usually take lessons in the shallow end of the Nakata Pool got to swim in the deeper Ray Williamson pool this week because of a a boiler failure in the Nakata Pool. - Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo
Young swimmers who usually take lessons in the shallow end of the Nakata Pool got to swim in the deeper Ray Williamson pool this week because of a a boiler failure in the Nakata Pool.
— image credit: Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo

After a dip in a pool, just about the only thing worse then shriveled up prune hands is the burning sting of too much chlorine.

For some islanders the chemical burn of the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District’s Aquatic Center is just too much, and has become a deterrent to using the public waters on Madison Avenue.

“I would go to the pool and I noticed it would take a couple days to wash the chlorine out of my skin,” said islander Larry Koss. “There was a time when I wasn’t even swimming, but just standing in the facility and my eyes burned for two days after. Something tells me that is not too healthy.”

Koss is working on a grass-roots movement to urge the parks district to transition from a chlorine-delivery system to a salt-water system. Koss started a petition that now has nearly 100 signatures, but it’s unclear how much the park district can do with a limited budget and more pressing pool emergencies, including a failed boiler at the Nakata pool.

Both saltwater and chlorine systems clean and sanitize with chlorine through different approaches. A chlorine pool directly adds chemicals to the water through a system of filters to circulate and clean. A saltwater pool uses an electrolysis device to create its own chlorine from salt, and sends a constant stream of the chemical into the pool.

Saltwater systems are widely touted by swimmers for a subdued chlorine smell, “softer” water, buoyancy and gentler touch on skin and swimsuits. But the salt system is a bigger initial investment, and some say the corrosive nature of the salt leads to additional costs in care and maintenance.

P.J. Mallon, the aquatics manager at the Naval Station Everett, said that more than 40 years of experience in every kind of pool and  said he would never go back to chlorine.

“For someone who maintains the pool there is no comparison with handling salt or directly handling a harsh, intense chemical like chlorine,” said Mallon. “I have been here for seven years and I have people who always comment that our pool does not smell like a pool.”

Mallon manages an eight-lane, 24-yard pool, and says there is no sanitation difference between salt and chlorine. The primary differences, he said, are maintenance and swimmer experience. Mallon buys 250 pounds of salt for under $500 to run the sanitation system for three or four months, with an annual cost around $2,000. But the initial expense for the salt systems can be a limitation, he said.

John DeMeyer, the manager of the Aquatic Center, said that a salt pool is not something he would rule out, but the advantages aren’t quite as encompassing as what many people think.

“Really at this point the big advantage is that you don’t have to buy any chlorine product. You just buy salt and a whole lot of acid,” said DeMeyer. “Our big costs would only involve salt, acid and electricity, but the monetary savings wouldn’t be all that great compared to what we are doing now.”

Mallon said he keeps a gallon of muriatic acid at the pool, but only has to use it about once a year to control the alkalinity or pH levels of the pool.

The Bainbridge pool can get up to 1,000 swimmers a day, and would require a much higher acid use, DeMeyer said.

DeMeyer said that the park district has more important priorities this year, such as a new boiler to heat the Nakata pool. The boiler had a catastrophic failure last week and a new boiler will cost up to $50,000. DeMeyer is arranging for a lease boiler in the interim, but the pool is becoming more vacant as the water cools each day and swimmers are warned to enter at their own risk of freezing.

The park board has tried to make improvements to the chlorine smell over the years. In 2004, the park district spent around $40,000 to add an ozone generator to combat the effect of chloramines, which is the byproduct of chlorine and causes the red eyes and smell that swimmers abhor.

That system didn’t achieve the same dramatic results as a system installed in the smaller Ray Williamson pool in the 1990s.

Within the next couple weeks, the district will also add a $35,000 UV generator in the Nakata pool to combat the chloramine problem.

“Why couldn’t we have spent that money to invest in a salt system?” said Koss. “The ozone and UV generators are not complete solutions because you are still pouring those harsh chemicals in the pool.”

Koss hopes the petition he created will get the attention of the parks district, which Koss says has shrugged off his requests for a salt water conversion for years. His post on the popular social networking site about the aquatic center salt conversion islandmoms has been viewed almost 500 times, with comments from numerous island parents, agreeing that the chlorine smell of the Bainbridge pool has prevented swimming and pool activities for children and parents alike. Koss would like to continue his grassroots movement by getting additional signatures for the online petition, handing out fliers and taking the issue to the parks district once he has garnered enough support.

Since 2009, Koss has been urging the park district to use the TMI SaltPure system. SaltPure provided a bid in 2009 for a salt conversion system for both pools and the spa at the Aquatic Center for around $60,000. The bid, which TMI Vice President Michele Petsch said is two years old and may need adjustments, wouldn’t require any upfront costs and could provide the district with a return on its investment of $49,000 to $104,000 over a 10-year lease period from the chlorine system. The estimate didn’t include salt, installation, permits or tax.

“If [salt] were a miracle system then cost wouldn’t hold us back,” said DeMeyer. “But it’s just not a miracle cure. The amount of acid we would have to feed the pool because of our usage means salt is just not a miracle cure.”

The Gig Harbor YMCA has a salt pool, but it is still installing a UV generator in the coming weeks to combat its chloramine problem, according to a spokesperson.

DeMeyer said the last indication was that the new Silverdale YMCA pool will not be using salt in its brand new pool set to open in July, which he thought was a telling indication about the salt systems.

DeMeyer said that while the parks district is taking care of immediate concerns, like heating, its budget for this year and next will be consumed. The UV system, he said, will decrease the chloramine levels and hopefully will make the Bainbridge pool more enjoyable.

For more information contact the parks district at 842-2306 or Larry Koss at lkoss@comcast.net

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